Thursday, August 26, 2010

Plethora of IMPD Fallout Articles

Today's Indy Star seems to be non-stop pieces on IMPD and how to clean it up. Yes, folks, we are no longer discussing a 'few bad apples', we are now discussing an errant culture.

We begin with the front page article by Francesca Jarosz, "Leaders: Change how IMPD operates". In this piece, Jarosz covers a new proposal by Council President, Ryan Vaughn, and Councillor Ben Hunter. Hunter Chairs the Public Safety Committee and is a former IPD officer himself. They have proposed a 10-point plan that they intend to bring to the Council in September.

Jarosz writes:
But Vaughn and Hunter say their reforms have less to do with the latest tribulations than a long-standing culture of problems within IMPD.

"This is a two-decades-old problem," said Hunter, an 11-year Indianapolis police officer who now leads Butler University's police department. "People have treated the symptom but not the root cause. There needs to be a shift to raise the bar."

FOP President, William Owensby, who likely would have hated these suggestions had Public Safety Director Frank Straub uttered them, thinks
"Generally speaking, there are a lot of good points in this," Owensby said. "Some may be a little overzealous, but they're on the right track."

I have two thoughts tangential to the proposed changes for IMPD being offered by Vaughn and Hunter. 1) They may not realize it, but they are acting as leaders, in the forefront on the IMPD issue, and making Mayor Greg Ballard look weak. It looks for all the world as if Ballard does not have their confidence when it comes to IMPD, or they would have asked him to offer their suggestions as his own. 2) Since it is now clear that there is an issue of an errant culture within IMPD, the public deserves to have an outside team of experts look at the extend of this errant culture and propose changes that come from a broader expertise in such matters.

Overall, I am glad that proposals are on the table. But, without full disclosure of what the problems are, it is difficult to know if what is being proposed is a cure or a distraction.

There is also an editorial by the Star Editorial Board, "Angry critics target wrong guy". They try to make the case that Straub is getting it from all sides, when he has had little time to effect any real changes in IMPD to "carry out his mandate for improving IMPD ". This editorial comes close to talking about a cultural problem within the organization by saying:
In hiring a new public safety director, city officials said they wanted an impartial boss to take on the task of tightening police accountability and restoring public trust. At this early stage, it is clear Straub is trying to fill that role.

I don't know if Straub is the 'right guy' or not. But, somebody needs to be able to gain the trust of the public, and that is not happening at this moment. If that somebody is going to tick off the FOP, which Straub is doing quite well, then that somebody must have an even greater amount of public confidence that they are the 'right guy'. At this moment, Straub, with the help of Mayor Ballard, must make the case that he is the 'right guy at the right time', or he will not be able to be effective - no matter what his skills and talents really are.

Then we have the spotlight Letter to the Editor, authored by Robert Vane, with Mayor Greg Ballard's picture and name on the piece. In "We'll restore your faith in police", the focal point appears to be for the Mayor to say the things that need to be said to quell the anger over the Bissard case. To this he says:
The incident in which officer David Bissard took the life of motorcyclist Eric Wells and critically injured Mary Mills and Kurt Weekly is infuriating, disheartening and inexcusable on every level.

Officer Bissard initiated a chain of events that cannot be taken back. There is no excuse for his actions and the tragic consequences that followed. He has caused unthinkable pain to the victims and their families, his own family, and his fellow officers.

This is a terrible tragedy for the victims, their families, the citizens of our great city, and the IMPD officers who bravely put on their uniforms every day and dutifully honor the public trust.

My responsibility, and the job for the department, is to take steps to make sure this never happens again.

All that the Mayor said here rings true. Unfortunately, I seriously doubt it is enough to quell the rising anger. With the motorcycle community coming into Indy from all over the world this weekend for the MotoGP at the Speedway and the the Indy Mile at the Fairgrounds, the Mayor's Letter is timely, but can not match the swelling numbers. From my experience in daily conversations with a certain motorcycle enthusiast to whom I am wed, Bissard's actions are inexcusable AND serve almost as an allegory for life on the road as a motorcyclist. Wells, Mills, and Weekly were stopped when Bissard came tearing down the road. They did exactly what they were supposed to do in staying put. Yet, they were the first to receive the blame of the police and the press. They were the victims in more ways than one. My husband has always told me that the most difficult issue with motorcycle safety is that so many other drivers simply do not see them. For three of their own to be at a complete stop, obeying every law and tactical driving rule, to be killed or seriously injured by a police officer, drunk, behind the wheel, on duty, and then to be blamed for the accident -- well, how could it get any worse? They are all Wells and Mills and Weekly.

Just as every African-American is Brandon Johnson.

Mayor Ballard is in cyclone here. One of fury at current events of police misconduct and one of fury at a longer term perception of racial bias in the treatment of citizens by the police. This is where leadership is tested. Usually letting heads roll like the Red Queen, will begin to quell anger as it implies that the one in charge sees the exact problem and has an exact, very public, solution to it. But, that is not working in this instance. Now, adding to the cyclone, he has two fellow Republicans, Vaughn and Hunter, who undoubtedly are trying to assist and find a lasting solution, but who in actuality are taking the spotlight and making Ballard look ineffective at a critical moment when he MUST be in charge and absolutely effective. Plus, their proposal and the time it takes to get through the Council, will only serve to make the Mayor look tepid for another two months.

Mayor Ballard's military experience was as part of the chain of command - somewhere in the middle to top. Now his role is more like that of the President in regard to the military - the Commander in Chief and civilian. The leadership needed at this level is different. He must be in front of the parade, not somewhere in its midst. He needs to find a way here - and not just for his reelection efforts, but also for the residents, for the officers, and for the reputation of Indianapolis.


Anonymous said...

It would seem that we need to imprison a large group of IMPD officers so that all the motorcyclists will feel like all the past wrongs done against them in traffic will be evened up. How many cops need to be imprisoned for their feelings to be salved? All the cops at the accident scene? How about within a mile radius of the scene? Okay, how about this. If we imprison all the IMPD cops on the shift, would that make the poor motorcyclists feel less like victims? How about Brandon Johnson? How many cops do we need to put in the penitentiary to make everyone feel the sheet has been balanced? How long are we supposed to make our public decision based on everyone being stampeded here and there by their hurt feelings? What about personal responsibility and accountability? How about prosecuting Officer Bisard to the fullest extent of the law and shipping him off to prison on consecutive sentences and let him enjoy life as an ex cop in general prison population? How about the Wells family filing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the city's "culture" of corruption that starts in the mayor's office and city-county council, and comes to its fullest flowering in the prosecutor's office, long before we even begin to talk about the cops? What about that culture? How about Brandon Johnson simply submitting to due process of law when he was caught involved in criminal activity, instead of resisting violently and attempting to incite a riot with all its dangers to police and citizens? What about the culture of media-savvy street hoodlums? I was tagged for drunk driving once years ago, and I've got a speeding ticket or two, but it was all my responsibility and I had it coming. I never whined about it and never tried to join the culture of victims that seems to infect every level of our community. If a cop broke his oath to the community, then skin him alive as an example and move on to other problems. I don't want a watered down ineffective police dept that has to run and hide from everyone's hurt feelings. There are other cultures beside the police that deserve being used as the public whipping boy if we want to improve as a society.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Your hyperbole is noted, but off base.

There is a very real problem of lack of confidence in the police at this point. That must and should be addressed.

The police are given special powers in order to keep the peace. Along with that is a special responsibility to treat all citizens alike and to obey the very laws they enforce. I don't see that as asking too much. And I don't see anyone saying all police officers should be locked up.

This isn't about 'feelings to be salved'. Sorry you can't see that.